The next day, Harry ended Quidditch practice early to give Ginny and him extra time to get to detention. He didn’t want to give Snape any reason to be nastier than usual to them. Hopefully, Snape would quickly lose interest in harassing them and leave them alone to work like he had the day before.
Harry hadn’t been able to stop thinking about his conversation with Ginny yesterday. For the first time, he realized that Ginny’s experience with Tom Riddle was possibly more terrifying than anything he’d ever experienced.
He remembered the overwhelming guilt, anger and fear he’d felt during the short period of time during fifth year when he thought Voldemort was possessing him and had forced him to attack Mr. Weasley. It had only been a few (excruciating) days before Ginny showed him that he hadn’t been possessed at all.
But Ginny had lived with the same fear and uncertainty every day for an entire school year, unwittingly seeking comfort from the source of her pain. Even after she’d escaped from Riddle’s control, she had no way of knowing if he would take over her mind again.
While Harry was plagued with a strange connection to Voldemort’s thoughts and feelings, it was always fleeting. His encounters with Voldemort were always brief and help seemed to always arrive in some form, even if it was too late to save others. But Ginny had lived with Voldemort for months, sharing her most intimate thoughts and feelings with him like a confidant.
Harry couldn’t help but feel a deep respect and admiration for her strength. She wasn’t the same girl he found in the Chamber. Even though Cho and Ginny had experienced very different traumas, he couldn’t help comparing them. Cedric’s death had been a devastating blow to both Harry and Cho, but Cho never seemed able to move on and Harry was too damaged to help her do so. Ginny, on the other hand, had found a way to push through her pain and rise above it.
In Ginny, he saw a true partner–someone who could understand him and bear the burden of his fate without crumbling. Ron and Hermione bore that burden too, but he was drawn to Ginny in a way that was deeper than friendship...
His mind turned to the moment he’d held her hand as he mended her cut yesterday in detention. It had felt so warm...and right. Even though she’d ended the contact abruptly, she had lingered for a fair bit of time before that… Was it possible that her feelings for him from so long ago were still there?
And then there was the lucky potion...it had brought her to him instead of Dean. She was meant to have her lucky day with Harry–and Harry alone. His heart leapt as he remembered how wonderful those few hours were with her.
But she’s with Dean, he reminded himself harshly. It wasn’t right for him to be pursuing her like this. But was she fighting the same feelings that he too felt? Or, had he already missed his chance with her? How would he know if she thought of him that way anymore?
When he opened the dungeon door, he saw the same wooden table, but this time there were three chairs. Harry suddenly felt uneasy.
“Sit,” hissed Snape, sweeping toward Harry like an overgrown bat.
Harry took one of the two chairs on the opposite side of the table, placing his back to Snape.
The chair next to him was lifted into the air and glided over the table, gently touching down on the opposite side. It seemed that Snape wanted to make sure Ginny sat opposite Harry today.
Snape moved in front of the door, so that he could see Harry’s face. Harry stared at the two chairs in front of him, avoiding Snape’s eyes. He knew that facing Snape would make it easier for him to read his thoughts.
“Look at me,” he demanded. Harry looked up grudgingly. He wanted to keep tensions low, so that Snape would leave them alone again to get their work done.
“If I’d known that simply inviting your crush into my classroom would make you this obedient, I’d have had Weasley in all of our classes together,” sneered Snape, that same ugly smile curling on his lips.
Harry said nothing, but held his gaze on Snape. He would not give Snape the reaction he wanted.
Before Snape could say another word, the dungeon door swung open. Harry jerked his head toward the door and the bottom dropped out of his stomach.
Dean was holding the door as Ginny stepped inside, her hair pulled back in a loose plait. He noticed she’d changed into the same sweater she’d worn when she’d saved him from the lake.
Harry abruptly turned away from them to hide his face, which he was sure showed a combination of surprise and disappointment. But now he was facing Snape, whose smile grew even larger.
In that moment, Harry knew that Snape had deliberately put Dean in detention today. He had no doubt that Snape had seen his feelings for Ginny in his mind yesterday, and he’d brought Dean here just to make Harry suffer.
Ginny and Dean quietly took their seats across from Harry, who avoided both of their eyes.
“What are you in for, Harry?” whispered Dean, looking glad to see him. Ginny’s face was unreadable. Perhaps she was thinking about flying.
“Potter was late yesterday, as you are today, Mr. Thomas,” said Snape. “That’ll be another detention for you tomorrow.”
Dean smacked his head against his forehead and groaned. Harry clenched his teeth, hating Snape even more deeply.
Snape smiled wickedly and waved his wand. A box of empty glass vials, three knives, and three boxes of dead flobberworms appeared on the table.
The door opened again, but Harry did not look up this time.
“Mr. Malfoy,” spat Snape, his smile disappearing.
Harry looked up so fast he nearly snapped his neck. Draco Malfoy was standing in the doorway, looking confused. His face was even paler than usual, and he looked even thinner than he had the last time Harry had seen him.
“I was just looking for Professor Slughorn,” Malfoy replied coldly.
Snape closed the distance between them in seconds, pushing Malfoy outside. Harry got up to follow, hoping to either eavesdrop or at least upset Snape enough to earn another detention.
But Snape stopped him at the door. “What are you doing, Potter?”
He waved his wand. Harry was lifted off his feet and thrown back into the classroom as the door slammed shut. Harry landed on his back with painful thud.
“Nice try, Harry,” smirked Ginny. Harry couldn’t help smiling back at her as he took his seat back at the table. Maybe detention with Ginny and Dean wouldn’t be so bad…
But when Dean stretched lazily and draped his arm around Ginny, Harry realized that his first instinct had been correct: this was going to be awful.
Dean leaned over and whispered something in Ginny’s ear, planting a kiss on her neck before drawing away. Harry felt a rush of blood to his head, and he clenched his wand in his pocket.
Ginny jerked away, her eyes wide. “Dean! Not right now,” she hissed. “You know I don’t like public displays…”
“Public?” scoffed Dean. “It’s just Harry!”
He put his fingers in her hair and started to stroke it. She batted his hand away as Harry fingered his wand, debating which hex to use on him. A Confundus Charm was too generous this time...
“Snape could come back any minute!” she said, a note of panic in her voice. But she was looking at Harry, not at the door. Perhaps she correctly surmised that Harry was just moments away from hexing Dean into jelly.
“That didn’t stop you last night,” chuckled Dean, leaning in to grope her some more.
Harry felt ill as he imagined Dean pressing her against the wall of a dark broom cupboard and running his hands all over her body as he kissed her neck.
“Dean…please,” whispered Ginny. “This is what landed you in here…”
Ginny’s words seemed to confirm Harry’s worst fear. He couldn’t believe that just hours after they had shared such an intimate moment in this very classroom, Ginny had been caught by Snape in a passionate embrace with Dean. Maybe he had been completely wrong about her feelings. Maybe she really had given up on him for good and her heart would never turn back to him.
Dean smiled as he ran his hand down her arm. “Good. Maybe we’ll get to spend more detentions together.”
“She said stop,” blurted Harry forcefully, the blood pounding in his ears so loudly he could barely hear. He’d had enough of this.
Dean drew away from Ginny, giving Harry a confused look. “Blimey, Harry, no need to get upset.”
“Then do what she says,” said Harry firmly. He didn’t know if Ginny didn’t want Dean’s advances or if she was just embarrassed to be kissing Dean in front of Harry. It didn’t matter. He couldn’t take it either way.
Ginny set her wand on the table and rested her hand on it, giving Harry a warning look. He was sure she would try to block him if he moved to curse Dean.
Dean let out a low hiss and looked at Ginny questioningly.
“Let’s save it for later, Dean,” she said in a low voice. The image of the two of them in the broom cupboard sprang back into Harry’s mind, and he felt a wave of nausea come over him. Was she promising that they’d be back at it tonight?
Dean slouched back in his chair, looking put out. They sat in an awkward silence until Snape returned, his mood much more sour now.
“There are twelve boxes of dead flobberworms that need to be skinned and gutted,” barked Snape, jabbing his finger at the rest of the boxes in the corner. He was clearly still fuming about whatever he had discussed with Malfoy.
Harry wished he’d been able to listen in. He knew Malfoy was up to something, but he just didn’t know what. It seemed clearer now than ever that Snape was helping him.
“You’ll need to use a paring knife to split the body and peel the skin,” he went on. “The skin must come off in one piece, so cut carefully. Then, use the side of the knife to squeeze the guts out. Place the skin and guts in separate vials and stopper them both.”
They nodded silently. Snape turned on his heel, heading for Slughorn’s office. “You’d better be done by the time I come out!”
The office door closed behind him with a snap. Harry turned to his box of flobberworms, feeling deflated. He wasn’t sure what was worse: detention with Snape or spending time with Ginny and Dean.
Not wanting to talk to either of them, he decided not to cast the Muffliato spell. Nobody would want to talk much if there was the chance of Snape hearing them and coming back.
They quickly set to work the flobberworms, which stank like rotting flesh. Harry quickly realized that even if Dean hadn’t been there, it would have been hard to carry on a conversation. It was nearly impossible to peel the skin off in one piece without his full concentration.
After about a half an hour, they ran out of empty vials.
“I’ll get us more vials from the supply cabinet,” muttered Ginny.
Harry did not look up from his flobberworm as she went to fetch the vials, but he couldn’t help noticing that she’d left her wand on the table. Now was the time to hex Dean if he was going to go through with it...but he realized quickly that this could backfire. Ginny had already tacitly warned him against it.
Instead, Harry took his next flobberworm from the box and started the difficult process of removing the skin in one piece.
He vaguely heard Ginny open the cabinet and gasp softly, but he was too engrossed in his flobberworm to pay her any attention. He had just separated a piece of the skin from the flesh and he didn’t want to rip it.
Harry stiffened. The familiar hiss sent a chill down his spine. As he slowly turned around, he heard a bloodcurdling scream that sent a jolt through his body like an electric shock.
Ginny was backpedaling away from the cabinet with a look of utter terror on her face. She tripped on a stool and fell to the ground. She turned toward Harry, her eyes wide and her face as white as a sheet.
“M-my w-wand!” she choked, reaching erratically toward him. “Accio wand!”
Harry drew his wand, looking wildly around the room for the snake that had hissed his name. But there was nothing out of the ordinary anywhere.
There was some scuffling behind him and he heard Dean’s voice. “Depulso.”
Ginny’s wand flew toward her, landing a few feet away from her. Harry heard Dean move toward her from behind him. He waved his wand, banishing Dean backward who crashed into an empty chair.
“Stay back!” Harry yelled, still searching wildly for the threat.
He visualized a snake in his mind. “I’m here. Show yourself!” he hissed, hoping the snake would appear.
“Well done, Ginny,” came a voice with a high and cold laugh, echoing off the stone walls. “You’ve delivered Harry Potter to me, just as I asked.”
Harry’s heart jumped into his throat at the sound of the voice. The image of Ginny’s prone, lifeless body in the Chamber exploded into his mind. How could Tom Riddle be here? It wasn’t possible…
Ginny was sitting on the ground, pale and frozen in fear with her wand lying just feet from her. Her eyes were fixed on the cabinet. Harry followed her gaze and saw Tom Riddle stepping out from behind the open cabinet door, which extended from the floor to the ceiling. He advanced on her quickly, still talking.
“After I kill Harry, I’ll have you kill your brothers, one by one. They’ll die knowing their sister–”
Without another thought, Harry ran toward Ginny, gripped with an uncontrollable fear that penetrated his bones.
“Protego!” he bellowed. With a loud bang, an invisible shield erupted between Ginny and Riddle. The force of it shook the entire dungeon like an earthquake–books fell off the shelves around the room, the glass panels around the lamps shattered, the table lurched behind Harry, and bits of stone fell from the ceiling. Riddle was knocked backward, but he did not fall.
“PROFESSOR SNAPE!” shouted Dean, sending a Stunning Spell toward them. It sailed over Riddle’s head and left a scorch mark on the wall.
Harry ignored him, stepping in front of Ginny and raising his wand against Riddle. But before he could utter another word, he heard the telltale crack of a boggart and the lamps went out, plunging them into total darkness. A bitter coldness stole over him, making his sudden relief that Riddle was only a boggart fleeting.
“H-Harry?” Ginny said softly. The terror and uncertainty in her voice cut through him like a knife. He was sure she didn’t know that his boggart was a dementor. Without thinking, he turned his back on the dementor and moved to her, groping for her in the dark.
“It’s just a boggart!” Harry said quickly, trying to keep his voice calm. The knowledge that he was dealing with a boggart didn’t make the task of driving away the dementor any easier.
“Lumos!” shouted Dean. But no light came.
“Oh! I should have known...” he heard Ginny mutter. He found her easily by following her voice. His hands closed quickly around her arms, which were already as cold as ice.
“I’m fine,” she said weakly, pulling her arms away from him as he tried to help her up. “Get the boggart.”
“What kind of boggart is this?!” called Dean from across the room with terror in his voice. Harry could hear him trip over what might have been a chair from across the room.
Harry felt his own breath catch in his chest as the cold went deeper than his skin. It was inside his chest, it was inside his very heart. He turned back to the dementor and raised his wand–
Dean’s voice rang out again. “Confundus! Petrificus Totalus! Incarcerous! ”
Suddenly, Harry felt thick ropes wrap around his body. He dropped to his knees, no longer able to balance.
“DEAN! STOP! YOU’RE GOING TO HURT US!” shouted Harry, furious that Dean was preventing him from dispatching the dementor. He was blindly shooting spells into the dark, and Harry was worried he might hit Ginny, too.
“Ginny, help me,” he said with difficulty this time. The ropes were getting tighter around his chest as the cold crept into his limbs.
He felt her move behind him as she presumably groped for her wand. A thick white fog started to swirl around him. He knew that if he didn’t get out of these ropes soon, he wouldn’t be strong enough to cast a Patronus.
A moment later, Harry felt her collapse next to him, breathing heavily. He suspected the dementor was quickly draining her energy. Her hands felt like ice as she touched his arm to find the ropes.
““D-diffindo,” she said in a hoarse voice. Harry roared in pain. It felt like Ginny had sliced him with a knife across the arm. “Oh, I’m so sorry, Harry, my hand’s shaking! Diffindo!”
The severed ropes fell away. Harry fell forward, struggling to hold himself up on his hands and knees. There was a rushing in his ears as though of water, and from very far away, he heard his mother’s terrible, pleading screams.
He groped around blindly for his wand as he racked his brain for a happy thought, but negative thoughts kept intruding. Ginny wants to stay with Dean. He’d missed his chance, and she’d never return his feelings. Voldemort would one day finish him, just like his parents. Sirius was dead, and it was all his fault…
Harry was falling deeper into the fog when he felt cold hands on his shoulders, yanking him upright onto his knees. He sank back, so that he was sitting on his heels, his wand still in his hand.
He felt cold lips against his ear and he heard Ginny’s voice, barely louder than a whisper. “Harry, imagine we’re flying together.”
It was their happy thought. Harry raised his wand and thought of playing Quidditch with Ginny at the Burrow. He remembered the soaring happiness he felt as he watched her dive for apples without a care in the world.
“Expecto Patronum!” he choked with all the strength he could muster.
Out of the end of his wand burst a blinding, dazzling, silver stag, illuminating the dementor that was standing just a couple feet in front of them. It galloped silently toward the dementor, lowering its head to charge.
A moment later, a silver horse swept past him to join the stag. It was shining just as brilliantly. Harry knew without having to ask that it was Ginny’s Patronus.
The cold in his heart began to ebb as he slowly stood up, his legs shaking a bit. He glanced backward for a moment. Ginny was kneeling on the ground, just behind him.
“Riddikulus!” he said, stronger this time.
The lamps came back on instantly. Harry squinted against the sudden brightness, seeing the dementor for the first time. Its hood fell off, revealing a jovial Gilderoy Lockhart.
“Who would like my autograph?” he asked with a grin.
Crack! Gilderoy had disappeared and Riddle was back.
“I’ll have you poison your mother, so you can watch the life leave her eyes,” he snarled, advancing on Harry and Ginny.
Harry raised his wand again. “Riddikulus!”
With a loud crack, Riddle turned into a fluffy pink pygmy puff.
“Depulso,” muttered Harry, waving his wand again. The pygmy puff was banished back into the cabinet and Dean slammed the door shut.
Harry let out a long sigh, feeling the tension leaving his body. Ginny let out a sob beside him, still on her knees.
“Who was that?!” Dean yelped, completely bewildered. “Why was he saying those awful things?”
Ginny buried her face in her hands and said nothing. Harry bent to comfort her, but stopped when Dean ran over to her and knelt down. He pulled her hands away from her face and helped her into a chair. Her face was pale and tearstained, and her eyes were bloodshot.
Dean sat beside her, stroking her cheek and whispering what Harry surmised were meant to be reassuring words.
“It’s all right,” said Dean quietly. “You don’t have to tell me right now.”
Harry turned away, not wanting to watch the intimate moment between them. He took a few deep breaths to steady himself. He wished he had been able to drive away the dementor sooner. There was no doubt in his mind that the dementor had made her relive the horrors of her year with Riddle.
Snape opened the office door, looking satisfied. Harry knew he’d planted the boggart there on purpose, just as he’d deliberately put Dean in detention. Now, Snape could see Harry looking dejected as Dean lovingly comforted Ginny.
“Weasley looks ill,” he said in a bored tone. “Take her to the Hospital Wing, Thomas. Potter will stay and finish the flobberworms.”
Dean stood up. “Come on, Ginny,” he said gently, holding out his hand.
She didn’t take it, but stood to join him. She gave Harry a meaningful look. Harry nodded at her, urging her to leave.
Dean slipped his arm around her waist as they walked to the door. Harry felt a stab of annoyance and turned away, returning to his seat.
When the door shut behind them, Snape swept over to Harry.
“Don’t ever try to use detention with me as a dating opportunity again,” he said acidly. “Consider that the closest thing to a date with her you’ll ever have.”
Harry said nothing, letting Snape glide back to Slughorn’s office. As he pressed his knife against his flobberworm, he took solace in the thought that Ginny had screamed his name in her moment of need instead of Dean’s.